Mantas Balakauskas

- Lithuania -

Mantas Balakauskas, a Lithuanian poet of the younger generation, studied history at the Lithuanian University of Educational Sciences. His poems have been published in the Lithuanian literary magazines Šiaurės atėnaiLiteratūra ir menasand Naujoji Romuva, as well as in the Poetry Spring festival Anthology. In 2013 he received the Pushkin Prize at the Druskininkai Poetic Fall festival. He co-founded the Slinktyscultural society in 2015, and his debut poetry collection Rome was published in 2016. Rome was nominated as one of the five best poetry books in the Book of the Year Campaign. The book was also awarded with Zigmas Gėlė prize for the best poetry debut. 

Mantas Balakauskas’s first book, published in 2016, is titled Roma (“Rome”). According to the author himself, “Rome is an object that is the center of attention, from which a new world is born. It is also an object of unhealthy fixation. A fork put into a power socket. For we do sometimes morbidly attach ourselves to people, to items, to words, to processes, and we repeat them and drown in them, and so all things are Rome” (taken from an interview by Jurga Tumasonytė for Literatūra ir menas). True, Rome is quite present in this book both outwardly and internally. The sections of the book supported by columns, the swords of poems, Roman numerals, a complex construction of the inner aqueducts, feasts of imagination and orgies of death, dilapidated coliseums of the soul, and vacant hiding places.

When I think of Mantas Balakauskas’s poetry, several images are playing in my mind, which I find myself attempting to put into words. The first image is that of being an outcast, the poetic subject’s attitude and thinking pattern, this unique solitude that no poetic connections can break. The author shares his peculiar interpretations of reality, unafraid (or perhaps afraid, yet still playing Va banque) of hurting himself on nothingness, emptiness, or meaningless. All the while, he is truthfully capturing the whole process. For that reason, the overwhelming multitude of voices may knock the subject down and diminsh authentic words: “[…] maybe there were too many voices, / assertions, wishes to help, / too much of the infinite strength to push on, / and that may be why I could not / discern after all from where shall the wind / blow at me during the next midwinter” (Roma, p. 17). Such solitude, though at times it transforms into a solipsism that the subject is well aware of (“and it’s hard to move, / to climb out of my own head / in that compost of non-living,” Roma, p. 11), gives the subject a special power of seeing, and injects them with a gene of honesty, an aching, even stubborn righteousness, an urge to unmask themselves and the burden of the worlds, which is unlocked in a self-realization that leads them to the entries of madness and the absurd: “for something chains me increasingly often, / during such moments I find myself horribly funny / and boring. Little people squat over me constantly, / with little boots made of concrete, as the large ones / I’m unable to lift anymore” (from poems published in Literatūra ir menas). The subject, on the other hand, find themselves in a cruel, dreamlike environment where they try to grab onto anything, but at once destroy the same thing they have just grabbed because of their abovementioned honesty. Whatever that is grabbed onto is just an Ariadne’s thread of poetic structure, which securely entwines the subject’s phobias and stings of darkness into the structure of a poem.

To me, Balakauskas’s poetry is also about the body of memory and the memory of the body, massive cultural perversions, crumbling bones of the present, and a non-sentimental longing for the former and forthcoming. About the delusions of reality, the “rails of balconies / that break the shapes of eternity’s Schengen,” about wandering in fringe spaces, in labyrinths of the collective (sub)conscious and the cultural Minotaur, about a subject who is “unable to read themselves fully,” about relationships and loneliness that pervades upon sticking one’s elbows out into the cosmos.

An important motive of Balakauskas’s poetry is the power of language itself to mean something. There is a doubt on whether language can mean, denote, or describe anything at all, which arises from certain recurrent images (“words are hollow chimney smoke, / stuffed birds sitting in their own shadow,” p. 21; “[…] no words anymore, no reason either […]” p. 20; “we speak nonsense, we only speak,” p. 23; “no grammar can hold the walls of this basement,” p. 32; “they are tired of discharging foul secretions of poetry,” p. 56). But the author attempts yet – utilizing painting techniques and structure, he tries to “think of long letters about You,” again and again simultaneously unmasking the “house of being,” which quite often remains deceptive, hollow like all of our being.

Self-destruction is right beside; a “young and mortal” individual who suddenly realizes their youth and mortality. And this self-realization enmeshes the whole textual body – the fragility, the condemnation, the befalling, and our obtrusive fixations toward the world, a panacea, a city that has been dead a long time ago.

I am also very interested in how the poem of Balakauskas is born – it seems that the same, not overly elaborate words and images are connected into a peculiar, original, and hermetic world. I reckon that this Rome was begun to be built ages ago, and that the tools used were being sharpened for some time.

However, I’m keen to see the texts for the second book; I’ve heard a couple already – it’ll be good.


Written by Lina Buividavičiūtė
Translated by Markas Aurelijus Piesinas